Resident groups and regular council watchers have told the Times they want to see the new council voted in this weekend take a firmer hand at the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River. Concerns were boosted last week as activist group Preserve Gnarabup wrote to Shire chief executive Stephanie Addison-Brown demanding a halt to advertising of Local Planning Scheme 2 amid claims councillors had no idea about some of the changes proposed to vital zoning controls at the coast. As reported earlier this month, the Margaret River Coastal Residents Association and Gracetown-Cowaramup Bay Community groups also lashed the reigning council for not taking “a firmer hand” in their governing role. Other council watchers and groups canvassed by the Times said they wanted the new council to reclaim their independence amid concerns Shire bureaucracy was slow going. Despite their criticisms, Preserve Gnarabup endorsed councillors Paula Cristoffanini and Julia Meldrum in their bids for the presidency. “We urge whoever is Shire president after the election to ask hard questions of the Shire chief executive on the irregularities and lack of transparency in relation to LPS2,” a spokesperson said. “Something is wrong with the way the Shire is operating.” Margaret River Business Network chief executive Annie McFie said the recently-announced Shire restructure would hopefully address some concerns. “It’s difficult to comment on the internal communications of the Shire administration and the councillors,” she said. “Our members frequently report finding it challenging to know who the right person/ department is to contact relating to community queries and concerns.” Margaret River Regional Environment Centre spokesperson Peta Goodwin said her group’s concerns were “still coming last” without due regard for Shire policies. “It has seemed sometimes that both the community and the council have forgotten that we employ and pay the chief executive to work for us, not the other way around,” she said. Former councillor and critic Linton Hodsdon urged councillors to represent the will of the community who he encouraged to vote before polls closed. “We have a voice to council, but those of us who make the effort to speak-up are treated like barking dogs, occasionally thrown a bone, but usually just dismissed.” Shire president Paula Cristoffanini said she was proud of the effective work between the council and local government during her two-year term. Cr Cristoffanini pointed to “facts” of a review of Shire values, management of the Margaret River Heart, customer services, the recently announced executive restructure, and stringent key performance indicators for chief executive Stephanie Addison-Brown. “Fact is that, council sets its priorities for the activities of the coming year in the corporate business plan and the budget to guide the Shire’s activities for the coming year, and these documents can be easily scrutinised,” she said. “The above facts are a clear demonstration of a council playing a decisive leadership role, setting priorities, and actively involved in in introducing changes for the benefit of our community.” Council deputy Julia Meldrum said cultural reforms she personally introduced would be developed in time “with honest, straightforward and courageous leadership” to build trust with the community. “I initiated culture reform within council and the executive to entrench a clear set of agreed values in the way the executive and council respectfully interact, and ultimately to filter through to the Shire’s dealings with the community,” Cr Meldrum said. Shire presidential candidate Kylie Kennaugh, a two-term councillor, said “significant changes” were under way. “If elected, my hope is to leverage the lessons learned from the past and commit our efforts to achieving more favourable outcomes for the future,” she said.